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Top 11 African Womenswear Designers You Need To Know

We’ve compiled a list of African womenswear designers and brands that stand out to us this year in celebration of African style.

African designers possess an innate awareness of style rooted in culture and tradition. The style aesthetics celebrate multiple ethnicities and nationalities; the garments are vibrant and electric.

Designers adhere strictly to standards of craftsmanship and design. They use textiles and prints to tell stories in an innovative way. They are passionate about displaying what home means to their global consumers.

In celebration of that, we’ve compiled a list of 11 African womenswear designers and brands that stand out to us this year. Take a look below.

1. Jermaine Bleu

Jason Asiedu is a Ghanaian designer whose work celebrates women’s curves and elegance. His garments flow effortlessly. His latest "Evolution" collection is meant to accompany the modern women from the start to end of her day. It is versatile and full of grace and poise. He is certainly a newcomer to watch.

2. Maki Oh

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Nigerian designer Amaka Osakwe’s label Maki Oh is comprised of intricately constructed pieces. She creates sexy clothing while combating what is conventionally deemed beautiful. Her garments so embrace the female physique that they have been worn by Michelle Obama, Lupita N'yongo, Solange Knowles, Leelee Sobieski, Alek Wek, Thandie Newton and Azaelia Banks. She fuses the aesthetics of her home and the West to create things that haven’t been seen in the realm of fashion. She is one of the continent’s most celebrated designers. Her upcoming Spring 2018 collection is sure to be nothing short of awe-inspiring.

3. Wana Sambo

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Nigeria's Wana Sambo produces timeless pieces for African woman like herself. The designer gives her consumers something they can feel sexy and confident in. She yearns for women to celebrate themselves at every stage in their life.

4. Bridget Awosika

Bridget Awosika hails from Lagos by way of Manhattan. Her collections speak to professionals and socialites alike. Her designs make their wearers feel ‘chic.’ They exude modern femininity. They are full of texture, movement, and sophistication.

5. Olori Swim

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Olori Swim was founded in Los Angeles by Nigerian couple Ibrahim Hasan and Dunnie Onasanya- Hasan. The brand celebrates all shapes and sizes of “melanin rich” women by providing them with luxury swimwear. It’s design are rich in color and call to mind royalty.

6. Recho Omondi

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Have you spotted those brightly colored sweatshirts on Issa Rae in Insecure episodes with the word “Niggas” hand stitched on them? Kenyan-American designer Recho Omondi is behind these masterpieces. Her eponymous brand thrives. It is well-constructed and makes it evident she is passionate about color, women and the black experience. Her garments sit upon models who look as unique as the pieces they wear.

7. William Okpo

Darlene and Lizzy Okpo started this brand named after their father in 2010. Their Nigerian parents’ style coupled with American culture serves as inspiration for their clothing. This juxtaposition gives way to an understanding of an immigrant’s sense of style.

8. Tongoro

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Senegalese media maven Sarah Diouf’s ready-to-wear label is based in Dakar and part of her push to keep making major waves in the fashion industry. It combines the care-free way of dressing in Senegal with that of Europeans. The label is comprised of pieces that are both playful and authentic.

9. Rich Factory

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Zambian designer Rina Chunga founded the contemporary label Rich Factory with a love of printed fabrics. In her factory based in Johannesburg, she deconstructs traditional silhouettes in wax print and turns them into unique pieces.

10. Gueras Fatim

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Senegalese-Guinean designer Fatoumata Guirassy tailors and embroiders impeccably. In 2015, she launched her line full of elegance and femininity. Much like the other designers on this list, she draws inspiration from her ancestry.

11. Nyorh Agwe

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Cameroonian designer Nyorh Agwe’s label is bold and eclectic. It celebrates individuality, while exploring the designer’s identity. The brand supports local artisans by being made in her homeland.

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Photo courtesy of CNOA

These Colombian Civil Rights Activists Are Fighting to Make Sure Afro-Colombians are Counted in the Census

When 30 percent of Colombia's Black citizens disappeared from the data overnight, a group of Afro-Colombian activists demanded an explanation.

It was the end of 2019 when various Black organizations protested in front of the census bureau—The National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (DANE)—in Bogotá, Colombia to show their dissatisfaction about what they called a "statistical genocide" of the black population. The census data, published that year, showed 2.9 million people, only 6 percent of the total population of the country, was counted as "Afro-Colombian," "Raizal," and "Palenquero"—the various terms identifying black Colombians.

For many years, Afro-Colombians have been considered the second largest ethno-racial group in the country. Regionally, Colombia has long been considered the country with the second highest number of Afro-descendants after Brazil, according to a civil society report.

Why did the population of Afro-Colombians drop so drastically?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists protesting erasure of Afro-descendants in front of the census bureau.

Last year, a crowd of activists gathered in Bogota to protest what they saw as erasure of Black communities in the Colombian census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

In the latest national census report from 2018/2019, there appeared to be a 30.8 percent reduction of the overall group of people that identified as Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero, as compared to the 2005. After this controversial report, an Afro-Colombian civil rights organization known as the National Conference of Afro Colombian Organizations (CNOA), officially urged DANE to explain the big undercounting of the black population.

This wasn't a small fight. Representatives who hold the special seats of Afro-Colombians in Colombia's congress asked the census bureau to attend a political control debate at the House of Representatives in November 2019 to deliver an accountability report. "The main goal of doing a political debate was to demand DANE to give us a strong reason about the mistaken data in the last census in regard to the Afro population," said Ariel Palacios, an activist and a member of CNOA.

At the debate, the state released an updated census data report saying that, almost 10 percent of the Colombian population—4.6 million people out of 50.3 million—considers themselves Afro-Colombians or other ethnicities (like Raizal, and Palenquero). But despite DANE trying to confirm the accuracy and reliability on the latest census report it was clear that, for a variety of reasons, Black people were missed by the census. The state argued that their main obstacles with data collection were related to the difficulties of the self-recognition question, as well as security reasons that didn't allow them to access certain regions. They also admitted to a lack of training, logistics and an overall lack of success in the way the data collectors conducted the census.

How could they have counted Black populations better?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists playing drums in front of the census bureau.

Drummers performing during a protest against the Colombian census bureau's erasure of Afro-Colombians from the 2018 census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

These arguments were not reasonable for the civil rights activists, partially because the state failed to properly partner with Afro-organizations like CNOA to conduct or facilitate extensive informational campaigns about the self-identification questions.

"CNOA has worked on self-recognition and visibility campaigns among the Afro community and this census ignored our work," says priest Emigdio Cuesta-Pino, the executive secretary of CNOA. Palacios also thinks that the majority of Afro-Colombians are aware of their identity "we self-identify because we know there is a public political debate and we know that there is a lack of investment on public policies."

That's why it is not enough to leave the statistical data to the official census bureau to ensure that Afro-Colombian communities are fully counted in the country. And the civil rights activists knows that. They made a big splash in the national media and achieved visibility in the international community.

Thanks to The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization, Palacios traveled to D.C to meet with Race and Equality institution and a Democratic Congressman. "We called for a meeting with representative Hank Johnson to talk about the implementation of Colombia's peace accords from an Afro-Colombian perspective but also to address the gross undercounts of its black population," says Palacios.

For the activists at CNOA, the statistical visibility of the Black population is one of their battles. They have fought for Afro population recognition for almost two decades. "Since the very beginning CNOA has worked on the census issue as one of our main commitments within the statistical visibility of the Afro-Colombian people," says priest Cuesta-Pina. Behind this civil organization are 270 local associations, who work for their rights and collective interests.

The activists want to raise awareness on identity. Because according to Palacios, "In Colombia, there is missing an identity debate—we don't know what we are. They [the census bureau] ask if we are black, or if we are Afro-Colombians. But what are the others being asked? If they are white, mestizo or indigenous?" Palacios believes that for "CNOA this debate is pending, and also it is relevant to know which is the character of this nation."

Afro-Colombian Populations and the Coronavirus

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists use mock coffins and statistics to protest erasure of Afro-descendants

Colombian civil-rights activist insist that undercounting Afro-descendants can have a real impact on the health of Afro-Colombian communities, especially during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

Even though the state recently "agreed with to give us a detailed census report" and make a different projection with the micro data, says Palacios, now with the Covid-19 emergency, CNOA and the government has suspended all meetings with them, including cancelling a second congressional debate and the expert round table meeting to analyze the data.

Unfortunately, it is exactly in situations like the Covid-19 emergency where data analysis and an accurate census report would have been useful. According to the professor and PhD in Sociology Edgar Benítez from Center for Afro Diasporic Studies—CEAF, "Now it is required to provide a reliable and timely information on how the contagion pattern will spread in those predominantly Afro regions in the country and what is the institutional capacity in those places to face it," says Benítez.

He adds that this information is "critical at the moment because the institutional capacity is not up to provide it at the current situation". That's why the Center for Afro Diasporic Studies plans to work with DANE information from the last census. According to Benítez, "We are thinking of making comparisons at the municipal level with the information reported in the 2018 Quality of Life Survey, in order to have a robust and extensive database as possible on the demographic, economic and social conditions of the black, afro, Raizal and Palenquera population in Colombia."









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